In one of the trailers for "Wreck-It Ralph," Zangief (Street Fighter) tells the main character, "You are bad guy, but this does not mean you are bad guy." It's a small, but important, distinction that helps define the main character. A similar thought applies to the film as a whole. "Wreck-It Ralph" may be a movie about video games, but it is not a video game movie. It's something much better.
Set entirely within an arcade, "Wreck-It Ralph" operates on the premise that video game characters are alive. Their "day jobs" consist of running the arcade experiences to ensure players are happy. When the arcade closes, the digital denizens are free to roam from machine to machine via the power cables. An oversized power strip serves as the arcade equivalent of Grand Central Station.
The digital world has some basic ground rules, as any functioning society must, but the two most important are 1) you don't respawn if you die outside your game and 2) you don't abandon your game. Sure, you can visit other machines — for example, Tapper serves as the arcade bar after work — but when the arcade opens, you're in your machine and ready to go.
If characters are missing, the arcade operator is likely to think something's wrong with the machine and unplug it. Unplugging a machine destroys the virtual world within, including any creatures that didn't make it to the power strip before the plug was pulled.
Ralph (John C. Reilly) has been serving as the "bad guy" of his game for 30 years. As the game's namesake, his job is to wreck the homes of the Nicelanders so Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) can save the day. The thing is that neither the Nicelanders nor Felix want to give Ralph the time of day. Depressed, he sets off to win himself a medal so he can finally be accepted. It's an emotion that anyone who's ever been an outsider to a larger group understands well.
Though the goal may seem straightforward, Ralph's adventure is far from it. Before the end of the film, he'll end up endangering the entire arcade, making a friend, saving the princess and learning what it really means to be a hero. These are all common themes in a Disney film. What makes "Wreck-It Ralph" stand out is the seamless way in which everything comes together. Even though the story hits all of the required checkboxes, it never feels forced or rushed. The emotions conveyed are real, and the film's climax is guaranteed to soften even the hardest of hearts.
A big part of any quest is the journey, and in "Wreck-It Ralph," the journey is half the fun. Joining the two main characters are Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Though they are drawn in inadvertently, both characters have their own demons to contend with, and Ralph is just the guy to force things to a head.
Calhoun's game is Hero's Duty, a riff on first-person shooters like Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Set in the future, the game has Calhoun's squad defending against the virus-like Cy-Bugs, which eat everything, adapt to anything and can only be stopped by a great beacon of light. The look is harsh and dangerous, as is the music. Calhoun is a no-nonsense leader who is there to protect her troops and the arcade. The character could have easily been a one-dimensional caricature, but Lynch brings an understated depth to her performance that makes you realize there is a real person underneath all that bluster. Even though she's ostensibly a hero, when we first meet Calhoun, she's just as alienated as Ralph.
Vanellope's game is Sugar Rush, a take on the kart racers of the '90s. Think Super Mario Kart with an extra-large dose of sugary sweetness, and you've got it. In this machine, the overly cute, big-headed kid racers compete to be on the selection board each day. Vanellope desperately wants to be a racer instead of an outcast, so she thinks nothing of taking Ralph's medal and using it to enter the qualifying round. Initially antagonistic toward one another, Vanellope and Ralph are forced to work together for a common goal.
Large portions of the film occur within Sugar Rush, so it ends up being the largest environment. From the car creation "minigame" to the king's castle and the entirety of the Sugar Rush race track, we're given an in-depth look at it all. The level of detail is impressive, as is the method in which the world is realized. Everything on the racetrack makes sense from a gameplay point of view, showing the audience what it would be like if we could actually play through it.
Character design is another element that "Wreck-It Ralph" absolutely nails. Different characters from different games are animated with respect to their eras. For example, the Nicelanders move in a very staccato fashion, with limited frames of animation — even when we're viewing their fully rendered personas inside the game world. This is important because in addition to the main characters, there are literally hundreds of cameos by video game characters of every generation.
Some of those that we noticed across two viewings included: Chun-Li, Princess Daisy, a DDR dancer, Ken, the Metal Gear Solid alert, Pac-Man, Princess Peach, Ryu, Sonic and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That's not even including the characters at the Bad Anon meeting (as seen in the trailer) or the multitude that flash by as the camera pans through Game Central Station. Expect to waste a good deal of time combing through freeze frames trying to identify all of the characters when the Blu-ray comes out.
Finally, there's the music. "Wreck-It Ralph" doesn't feature many licensed tracks, but those it does are put to exceedingly good use. Japanese girl group AKB48 provides the main Sugar Rush theme, while electronica artist Skrillex remixed a track for Hero's Duty. The most memorable song, however, is Rihanna's "Shut Up and Drive." Going forward, the sequence in which it appears might just be the definitive use of the song.
Whether you're a classic video game fan or just someone looking for a fun time at the movies, "Wreck-It Ralph" delivers on all counts. On par with some of Pixar's best, "Wreck-It Ralph" is destined to be a Disney classic that appeals to kids (and gamers) of all ages. It's not to be missed.
"Wreck-It Ralph" is rated PG and has a running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes. It is showing in 2-D and 3-D.
Editor's Note: Be sure to follow the WorthPlaying Twitter feed today (November 2, 2012) as we're handing out copies of Wreck-It Ralph for iOS devices for #FreeCodeFriday!
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